Justin Hilliard2

Mailbag: Summer sessions, Shamrock Series, point-spreads and more

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Another spirited mailbag. I especially enjoy seeing your answers in the comments, hopefully these live up to your own.

Let us begin.

mediocrebob: With the new rules regarding summer workouts, how involved are the coaches right now and do these workouts give the incoming freshman a better opportunity to get a feel for the next level? Do these workouts benefit offensive skill players more than say a Nyles Morgan?

The tweak in rules is a pretty big deal, and probably hasn’t been talked about enough. While Kelly has only discussed what the offensive coaches are doing to take advantage of the ability to work on the playbook and football specific skills (no using actual footballs), Kelly said the team is handling the workouts like the NFL’s OTAs (Organized Team Activities), and offensively, the team is reinstalling the offense during the summer, getting them into fall camp ahead of schedule.

Of course, a reinstall is probably more crucial on defense, as Brian VanGorder used the 15 spring practices to initially install the new system. For Nyles Morgan, who wasn’t a part of spring football, this is a crucial time for his development. And the opportunity to work with his defensive coaches, not just Paul Longo and his staff, is key.

Looking for a good tidbit on Morgan understanding his opportunity? He was on campus and spotted during the Irish Invasion, looking physically impressive for an incoming freshman.

 

johngaltisspeaking: Will we see a QB carousel with Zaire and Golson this season or are we doing to see one QB take the reins? Also while Golson’s play has been the best in BK tenure it seems that the up speed Oregon style offense was never run. Is BK trying to run more of a Oregon style offense or Auburn Offense ? I would love to know exactly what type offense he is going to install this year.

Carousel might not be the right term, but I fully expect Zaire to see the field early for the Irish, getting him his first taste of college football on Notre Dame’s terms, not in an emergency situation.

As for the Irish offense with Golson, I spent some time writing about it here. But I don’t think you’re going to see Oregon’s offense or Gus Malzahn’s offense. But you will see Brian Kelly’s spread offense, the first time they’ve been able to run it to his liking since he’s been in South Bend.

 

notredameirish1980: Your prediction: After the Barnett flip, will ND pass on a QB this year given that they probably return 3 scholarship QB’s next season, two with multiple years of eligibility, and concentrate on getting the RKG for 2016? 

While Barnett’s decommitment hurt, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as others are making it out to be. While some worry that 2014 might be Golson’s final season in South Bend, I have a hard time understanding the logic behind that decision. And with two other quarterbacks with four full seasons of eligibility, it’s far from a NEED position.

That being said, the staff has made additional offers, though Travis Waller’s looking more and more destined for Oregon and not Notre Dame after it looked like he was trending Irish.

But if you’re looking for a 2015 quarterback that ND is targeting? Start looking at some of the committed prospects. Everett Golson wasn’t on anybody’s radar when he was a long-time North Carolina commit. And Gunner Kiel was a pipedream between his commitments to Indiana and LSU.

Weird things will happen. Probably the best thing to happen to the Irish was Barnett flaking out in June, not January.

 

rocket1988: Do you see the addition of home and homes with SEC teams being the death of Shamrock Series games? And top three cities you’d like to see a one off game in?

No way. I think the Shamrock Series is here to stay and will be a part of Notre Dame’s scheduling plans for a long time. Upcoming games in Indy, Fenway Park, and back to the Alamodome have Notre Dame locked in through 2016.

The home-and-home with Georgia was more about getting the Irish into the state and SEC, finding a top-shelf SEC program that also wasn’t morally or academically bankrupt.

But since you asked, here are my top three cities for a Shamrock Series game?

1) San Diego: Getting a game in Petco Park and into the southern-most part of Southern California would be a ton of fun. And the venue can’t be beat.

2) “South Florida:” (Yes, I know that’s not a city…) Getting ND into an interesting game in the talent-rich South Florida area should be on the agenda… especially to erase the last appearance in the Miami area. Staying on the baseball theme, maybe playing in the Marlins new stadium?

3) Vancouver: This might be outside of the box, but how about a game in Vancouver’s BC Place? The stadium fits 54,000 for football, takes Notre Dame into the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and could be an awesome game against someone like Washington. (Plus we could eat lots of salmon.)

 

simmel65: I have always loved how Notre Dame plays one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but are we getting to the point where that might be counterproductive? Look at Alabama’s schedule. They always have a bye or a patsy before a big game. Our schedule is so dependent on everyone else’s, that it seems like we are going to end up stacking a ton of solid teams up in a row which just may end up keeping us out of the playoffs. Thoughts?

Welcome to life as college football’s lone (major) independent. Notre Dame needs to play a tougher schedule to get into the final four spots without a conference title to win. But expect to see some of those cupcakes erased from schedules as the Big Ten goes to nine conference games and schools start to miss out on an opportunity to get into the playoff based on strength of schedule.

Do some upcoming Notre Dame schedules look too tough? Sure. But the 2012 schedule looked to be the toughest on paper in the country and Notre Dame walked through that just fine.

 

ndrocks2: Surprised Koyack is getting preseason mentions as one of best TE’s? Is it based on how we use the position or is he the real deal just buried on depth chart in the past?

Koyack should be on the Mackey Award watch list, if only because every Notre Dame starting tight end over the last decade has at least been a semifinalist for the award. Sure, it’s mostly based on the reputation of Irish tight ends putting up big seasons, but also because Koyack is a 6-foot-5, 261-pound monster who is going to be counted on to play a major role in the Irish offense.

I think Koyack is poised for a big season. He’s got to clean up some of the drops and mental mistakes he’s made, but he’s going to be one of the key pieces to Notre Dame’s offense.

 

onward2victory: Keith, if you were a betting man, which of the Golden Nugget ND spreads do you like most? Is FSU really 24 points better than us?!?

At this point in the year, who knows what’s going to happen. But a look at Florida State versus the competition last year, and you get an idea as to why the point spread is so inflated.

As for the early lines — and no, I’m no longer a betting man (Thanks Bush & Leinart) — no line was released for the Rice game, but I’d expect the Irish to be around a 10-point favorite against a sneaky Owls team that won 10 games last year.

But other than that, Notre Dame is favored in every game except Stanford (ND’s a +6 home dog), The Seminoles (+24), at Arizona State (+4.5) and visiting USC, getting a surprising 10 points.

As a betting man, I’d feel pretty good about hitting the Arizona State and USC games. Taylor Kelly should lead a pretty prolific offense, but the Sun Devils are a mess on defense. As for USC, Notre Dame’s won three of four against the Trojans and I’m not seeing how giving 10 points makes a bunch of sense for Steve Sarkisian’s first Trojan squad.

 

iamgolden4life: Keith, I wondering if we were to land Hilliard July 2 if you will do an article on who the most likely to follow him to South Bend. I also know of course we may miss on him, but he looks very happy and comfortable in the pics of him I’ve seen while visiting ND.

Hilliard will announce his college choice on July 2, as will Jashon Cornell. It sounds like it’ll be a package deal, which answers your question. Hilliard and Cornell have struck an unlikely friendship, two elite defensive prospects that want to play football together in college.

Most feel like this is Ohio State’s recruitment to lose. But I still feel like Notre Dame is in a good place to win these two, a gigantic swing in recruiting. (Wide receiver Myles Boykin will announce on the 2nd as well, making my travel day home to Minnesota a fairly hectic one.)

As for Hilliard, I’m just ready for his recruitment to end. Between he and Cornell trolling multiple fanbases on Twitter, it’s hard to get angry at a kid who is just trying his best to enjoy a process grown-up football fans ruined, but Notre Dame’s staff have done everything you could ask from them.

I pointed it out last week, but Hilliard’s comments on Notre Dame — and the comfort he feels with the players and what the school does academically for him — and the perfect comments you want to hear from an Irish recruit. If Notre Dame doesn’t land him? He just didn’t want it.

Either way, wish the kid well and understand why Brian Kelly says Notre Dame’s not for everyone and they often have to shop from a different aisle.

 

onward2victory: In the spirit of pure speculation, which opposing QB that ND will face would start over Golson if that QB was Irish?

Good question. Let’s just put Jameis Winston here for now, as the returning Heisman Trophy winner is the perfect quarterback for Brian Kelly’s offense. Other than that, I think the only other QB on this list would be Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly, and that’d be a heckuva competition between the two.

 

ndtod: Not football related, but WTH. Played the Warren course recently and rumor is a big tournament coming there in 2019 or 2020. Prior to that, school considering building villas or cottages on the course. True? What say you?

I have not heard this rumor, but I’m assuming something like the US Amateur or the Women’s Am? And if so — AWESOME.

I highly doubt many have played the Warren Course more than me, as I spent about five days a week wandering those fairways (let’s be honest, a lot of rough, too) as a student in the course’s opening years. It’s a wonderful track that’s only getting better with age, and getting one of the early Coore-Crenshaw designs was a pretty impressive move by Notre Dame brass.

I’d be shocked if there was ever a plan to build condos or villas on the course. I don’t know where they would fit and the property isn’t outfitted for roads or a housing development like some of the other golf course developments from the 1980s and 90s.

But thanks for the update on the course. And the reminder to bring my sticks next time I’m in South Bend.

Swarbrick talks improvements to Shamrock Series opponents

Shamrock Fenway
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Notre Dame is taking 2017 off from the Shamrock Series. When it comes back, expect to see an improvement in opponents.

With the remodeled Notre Dame Stadium set to be finished in 2017, playing seven home games is a natural fit. But with the neutral-site series set to return in 2018, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has grand plans for improving the series that’s taken the Irish to some iconic venues, but has lacked much punch when it comes to high-profile opponents.

Speaking exclusively with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Swarbrick laid out some grand plans for the revitalization of the game.

“When the opponent and the venue and the place all contribute to the story, that’s when it works the best,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “I still want to maintain that. The difference will be that many more of them now will be led by the opponent.

“Now it can be, ‘I got this opponent.’ Now where can we go with them that works with what we’re trying to do?”

With Notre Dame returning to San Antonio for the second time in the Shamrock Series and repeating an opponent with Army as well, it’s clear that this year’s game checked off some other boxes when it got decided. Swarbrick acknowledged some of the restrictions that have held him back, with the reboot of Notre Dame’s schedule with five ACC games and other television considerations really limiting the team’s options.

“What we’ve been able to do in the Shamrock Series to this point is limit ourselves to games we already had scheduled that we would move,” Swarbrick told Sampson. “It was a very small range of people that we could do these deals without getting into television conflicts. With more lead time we have the runway we need to make these games, the three pieces of it – geography, venue and opponent – come together a little bit more.”

Rumors of new venues aren’t new. Brian Kelly has discussed Lambeau Field before. There’s been talk of a game in Rome. And rumblings of Michigan’s return to the schedule won’t go away.

Just recently Kelly tweeted out a picture from another venue that wouldn’t be too shabby.

But there’s an opening for another step forward for the program and Swarbrick is the right man to lead the change. He’s already led the Irish athletic department through a move to the ACC and helped navigate the “seismic changes” that resulted in the College Football Playoff. With the ambitious Campus Crossroads project near complete this seems like a perfect next project for the head of Irish athletics to take on.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
via Twitter
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.